Most modern adults tend to have very stiff middle backs (usually from about the tenth thoracic vertebra (T10) to the fourth lumbar vertebra (L4). This region (T10-L4) is stuck in a slight forward bend (spinal flexion) in many modern adults. These people usually do most of their bending backwards (spinal extension) from the very lowest part of the mobile spine at junction between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the first sacral vertebra (L5-S1). L5-S1 is usually located about 2 centimetres below the top of your hips (iliac crests).
You see, around 75% of the adult population has experienced lower back pain – and I’m not talking about those who practice yoga. It’s a “thing” and not a yoga “thing.” It comes up in yoga a lot, though. Mostly around backbends though honestly, the way we forward bend can often be more to blame. But lets just stick with backbends for now. Because that’s usually where we get scared our body either completely seizes up or totally collapses.
Luckily, there doesn’t have to be an either/or. We have lots of gray to research and learn. But before we get started, lets get something clear: We are NOT going all the way. Now that THAT silly business is out of the way.
I don’t know if you know this about Ashtanga – but backbends are a pretty big damn deal. When I started, no one cared that I could stand on my hands. No one wanted to see me float or jump or balance on my arms. No, they wanted to see my backbend.
Only, I didn’t have a backbend. I had more of a coffee table.
The foundation of our bodies and our yoga practice lies at our feet. In order to incorporate both physical and energetic foundations, we must examine our body’s center of energy, movement and balance which begins near the psoas muscle– the pair of deep muscles extending from the sides of the spine to the femur that are activated in postures like forward bending (paschimottanasana), Boat pose; and lengthened in poses like Warrior I and Bow.
I have written about a number of the “lightning rod” muscles such as the piriformis, psoas, and transverse abdominis. I refer to them as “lightning rods” because they attract attention. Sometimes this is for good reason, after all, everyone should know about his or her psoas. However, every problem related to core shouldn’t be thrown onto the back of the psoas or the transverse abdominis for that matter.